Too often we forget God’s truth is woven into every aspect of his creation. Spiritual laws are not mysterious “churchy” things, disconnected from everything else. Rather, spiritual laws exist and are reflected in everything around us. This is why Jesus’ parables, David’s psalms, Solomon’s proverbs, the prophets’ preaching, and the Apostle’s epistles all contain manifold references to nature. As human beings, we operate within the larger realm of creation so, in a very real sense, what is true for flora and fauna is likewise true for human beings.

The one verse that has always reminded me of this is Gal. 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Paul was implicitly reminding the Galatians of something true in nature “If you plant fig seeds, don’t expect a grove of olive trees,” and in human behavior, “If you indulge and nurture your sinful desires, don’t expect a crop of righteousness down the road.”

Please read the following article before continuing with my post: Gen Z and the Draw to Serious Faith.

The author’s focus in the previous article is the increasingly apparent shift among the youngest American generation (Gen Z) vs. the older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials). He contends – and I thoroughly agree – Gen Z is seeking to escape the superficial religion touted by previous generations of American Christians, instead desiring something more serious, grounded, and, well, real.

To put it another way, the slick salesmanship of a seeker-sensitive approach is finally reaping what it has sown for decades – superficiality. Because American evangelicalism (as a whole) has concerned itself more with appearance than with substance, should it surprise any of us that our churches have produced Christians more concerned with appearance than with substance? Increasingly superficial churches have produced increasingly superficial Christians. (Sadly, the PCA is not immune to this trend, though it is not as far along in the process as some other denominations.) Do not be deceived, for God is not mocked; whatever one sows, that also will he reap.

But, more strikingly, a minor point in “Gen Z and the Draw to Serious Faith” provides an even better parallel for American evangelicalism:

“It’s possible the cultural winds blowing so hard against the church right now will serve to highlight the significance and sturdiness of this majestic oak tree. A tree that can sway and bend without breaking, that demonstrates remarkable flexibility in cultural expression and missionary fervor yet never snaps, never falls, never breaks, and will stand out in a world of moral decay.”

I overlooked this minor illustration because I know almost nothing about trees, but the author might have been more “prophetic” than he realized when comparing American evangelicalism to an oak tree. After I sent the article to a friend and local forester, he took the author’s illustration and ran with it – and deserves the credit for the following insights!

Oak trees are indeed large and majestic, with a lifespan of 100-150 years. (Modern American evangelicalism, also “large and majestic,” finds itself at 100-150 years old.) Oak trees in this age range are big and beautiful, mature and majestic. The tree continually identifies unfruitful branches and redirects nutrients and resources to other healthy, fruitful branches, and the tree’s dead, unfruitful branches are eventually detached from the tree by storms and strong winds. So the tree’s majesty endures…or so it seems…

However, the problem is that we are talking about an oak tree. (This is where my friend truly grabbed my attention!) Oak trees, by their very nature, might appear majestic on the outside, but if they are not planted by streams of (living) water, they inevitably rot from the inside out. This is why, after a huge storm, that majestic oak tree you have passed all your life is suddenly uprooted. The tree’s majesty was in appearance only. The interior long ago began succumbing to rot and decay. Only a person knowledgeable about the true nature of oak trees would have noticed the signs of decay (holes in the trunk, discolored/cracked bark, mushrooms in/around the trunk, musty smell, etc.), but anyone not educated about oak trees would have failed to see the tree’s coming demise.

As a quick disclaimer, my references to “American evangelicalism” are not all-inclusive. Particular churches in different denominations have remained faithful and are not themselves “oak trees.” The “oak tree” analogy represents the large-scale trend of American evangelicalism over the last 20-30 years.

Now do you see why the oak tree example might possibly be the perfect parallel for modern American evangelicalism? Large and majestic, beautiful and mature, spanning multiple generations, yet slowly rotting from the inside out.

Once again, we have forgotten how God’s truth is reflected in all areas of his creation. Just as I knew nothing about oak trees until my friend educated me, so too do we have countless professing Christians (and church leaders) who know very little about the true nature of the Church (as defined in God’s word). No one educated them so they cannot educate anyone else. Rather than understanding the nature and needs of the “tree” (i.e., the Church), as would a trained forester (i.e., a true shepherd), their primary concern is to keep the “tree” big and beautiful for as long as possible. Ultimately, this ignorance and misunderstanding prevents them from seeing the increasing evidence that the American church as we have known it is nearing the end of its life cycle. Too many are still so awed by the majesty of the “American evangelical oak tree” that they refuse to believe it will one day fall.

Church History tells us otherwise. All great “oak trees” in redemptive history eventually fall (e.g., the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Eastern/Byzantine Christendom, Western European Christendom). Nevertheless, the Church itself does not fall. The Church persists through God’s preservation of a faithful remnant (i.e., a seed) of the previous “oak tree,” and that remnant (seed) eventually grows into another beautiful, expansive expression of faith (often in a different geographical location). This might not be easy for Americans to hear, but it should encourage those who know they belong not to the American Christian kingdom, but to God’s eternal kingdom.

In all humility, I admit I might be wrong. Perhaps others are right. But do not be deceived, for God is not mocked; whatever one sows, that also will he reap. Modern American evangelicalism, for many years, has been obsessed with building itself into a majestic oak tree – dominating the landscape, providing shade and shelter for large numbers, and maintaining external appearances. But lamentably, this grand American evangelical oak tree failed to stay firmly planted in/by the living waters of God’s word. Thus, for at least the last two generations, it has been rotting from the inside out. The signs are clearly present – biblical illiteracy, tolerance/acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism, acclaim for “woke” social justice, and compromise or abandonment of doctrinal standards, just to name a few. But the great storm to topple the tree is still yet to come.

The one bright spot in the coming fall of the American evangelical oak tree is that another tree, one of its seedlings, has already been planted. In time, that seedling will grow into another sincere expression of biblical Christianity. Maybe, just maybe, Gen Z represents that new tree sprouting forth from the ground…

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